Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DRS? Yes... No... Uh, Come Again?

Nothing it seems is straightforward as far as cricket administrators are concerned. Barely had the collective sigh of relief of fans all over died down that the DRS had finally been made mandatory for all international cricket, came the rude jolt that ball-tracking technology (read Hawk Eye, Virtual Eye, et al) will no longer be one of the mandatory requirements.

Just to rewind a bit, Hawk Eye and similar such technologies provide a dual function. The first one is to show where the ball landed after the bowler delivered it; and the second is the more complex function of predicting where it would have ended had it not been obstructed along its way (by the batsman or his body). Now we all know that the predictive element of this technology has long been a grey area and no one could tell for sure where the ball would end up after it hit the batsman’s pads.

Players, commentators, viewers, and most importantly, umpires alike had long been a bit circumspect about it but accepted its verdict, even if hesitantly. Since it was such a grey area, the administrators had a case for not making it a part of decision-making. But what about the line decisions part of the technology, meaning where the ball had landed?

There wasn’t any doubt – not a single one – of anyone ever doubting the technology over where the ball had landed. Even tennis, which embraced technology much after cricket, accepts Hawk Eye’s evidence as the last word on decision-making. Remember we’re only talking line decisions here, so I’m not comparing apples with oranges.

To give you an example, if the ball pitches outside leg stump, there’s no recourse for the batsman to challenge an lbw decision because ball-tracking technology is no longer a mandatory requirement. The ICC of course has added a proviso that if agreeable to both parties, ball tracking technology can be used for decision-making, but that’s hardly the point. The point is why let individual boards decide what should be uniform playing conditions for all international cricket.

This blog, like most Indian fans, knows for a fact that BCCI is not a huge fan of ball-tracking technology and so will not accept it in its current form at least for the India matches. That is where uniform playing conditions would have come in; by putting the ball in individual boards’ courts the threat of lopsidedness in international cricket looms large with some series being played with DRS and some not.

I don’t know what these guys were smoking when they passed this ridiculous playing condition. What I do know is that every stakeholder in every sport is fine with WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) technologies. And the elementary function of ball-tracking technologies – of showing where the ball landed - is as WYSIWYG as they come. But by clouding their minds with the predictive element of ball-tracking technologies, the mandarins at ICC decided that the whole technology has to go.

Another aspect which hasn’t attracted enough attention as yet is the cost of using these technologies. The HotSpot has a huge cost element to it (some estimates peg it at USD 60,000 for a Test match) and none of the parties involved is ready to bear its expenses. With HotSpot now made mandatory, you cannot have DRS without having HotSpot in place.

And so the vicious circle continues. In one fell swoop, India has both accepted and rejected the DRS. The ICC is thumping its chest that they have got India to ultimately accede to its wishes. Both parties are claiming victory and not for the first time cricket, over whom the fight is, is the loser.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jamaican Punch & An RD Composition

As India wrap up their second victory in consecutive Jamaica tests, it bears reiteration that India were without 4 first-team regulars; had 3 debutantes; and 3 others who’d played 10 tests or fewer going into the match. So all those who scoff at this victory saying it was ‘only’ West Indies need to get their cricketing senses right.

The architect of the victory, however, was that 150-test veteran, Rahul Dravid. The tributes have been flowing thick and fast, and so it should be. He’s long been the unsung hero of this team; always the sidekick, never quite the main protagonist. Tom Alter who paid a rich tribute on firstpost.com articulated it well – “… he’s been the Shashi Kapoor to Tendulkar’s Amitabh…”. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, previously with Cricinfo, wrote eruditely on RD & his mastery of struggle.

It was poetic justice as well, for it was exactly 15 years ago to the day that Dravid had missed out on a century on debut by 5 agonising runs. And at Lord’s. The same match where Sourav Ganguly did get to his.

The victory itself was more a roller-coaster than a landslide. While the fight back from 85/6 was good, India shouldn’t have fallen to those depths in the first place. The spinners turned the ball a mile but it was precisely for that reason that ball kept eluding bat. Sometimes, it pays a great deal to just stick to the basics. It took Raina and a straight ball to end West Indies’ resistance. These might be mere instances of nitpicking but against mightier opponents like England (India’s next challenge), these things might hurt India.

Asked about the umpiring, MS had this gem for us: “If the correct decisions were made", he said, "the game would have finished much earlier and I would have been in the hotel by now.” He might as well have said if the UDRS were here… At least India won this game. Imagine the furore had India lost? One of these days, India’s going to lose big time on account of bad umpiring (at least until the likes of Daryl Harper are still around). Why not be proactive & nip the problem in the bud MS, rather than rant out in the media? The match referee might also have a thing or two to say about that ill-advised comment. Go fish.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gayle Blown Over

The big news trickling in this morning is that Chris Gayle’s international future is in doubt due to a long-running dispute between the West Indies board (WICB) and him. Now, this can only be a bad thing if you’re a true fan of the game.

I must confess the moment I heard Gayle had initiated talks with the board (which was a prerequisite for him playing again), I assumed it was only a matter of time before the WICB reinstated him. After all, you can’t keep out the one world-class player you have in your team for too long, right? Wrong. WICB, in its immense wisdom has decided an apology is more important than West Indies winning or losing its next game.

In the claims and counter-claims (through ‘sources’ and then some more ‘sources’) that have followed, one thing is pretty clear; neither side is blameless. Gayle accuses the board of sabotaging his career and the board counter-accuses him of not giving them the respect they deserve.

To an outsider looking in, this totally reeks of juvenile prudishness and utter lack of maturity. For if these are well-meaning adults (and ‘professionals’ at that), surely they can sit across the table and trash it out? Instead, what they’re doing is trashing each other!

If Gayle sits down in a moment of calm, he ought to ask himself what is more important to him. Playing for the West Indies or clutching on to his ego and not apologizing. It’s a no-brainer really. Likewise, what’s more important for the WICB? Settling personal scores or being facilitators in ensuring that the best-possible eleven represents the region?

There are questions aplenty and sadly, very little answers. While this is certainly not the last we’ve heard about this, what is pretty certain is that Gayle will be taking no part in the upcoming India series. From the spectators’ point of view, the series has been further robbed off its sheen after the withdrawal of several Indian stars.

Such a shame!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's In A Name?

What’s the similarity between BCCI & Paris Hilton? As you chew over that preposterous question and try to figure out something noteworthy, let me go on to some BCCI-bashing before giving you the answer.

Where do you start with the BCCI? Almost everything they do seem to be at odds with the rest of the world. And it starts right with their name; the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Phew! A few more words, and it would be a paragraph. The name itself sounds imperialistic, not to mention the trouble the poor fingers have to go through in typing the sentence of a name out. Why can’t they simply re-christen it Cricket India (CI). Short, and easy on the fingers too.

Coming on to more serious matters, their latest blood-curdling moment came when they continued to block the implementation of UDRS (Umpire Decision Review System); this time for the England series. A snap-poll on Cricinfo – the premier cricket website on the internet – showed more than 75% think it was erroneous on BCCI’s part. And it just might come back to haunt Team India. Remember Sydney? That was the test which triggered a chain of events that brought the UDRS into the picture in the first place. Ironic then that India is it’s most vocal critic now after being the victims of such poor umpiring in that series.

What’s more concerning is the reason BCCI keep blocking it in the first place. Some would argue that it’s the senior players in the team who’re opposed to it (which is true). But the real reason lies elsewhere. After all, the players are opposed to a lot of other things – the over-exhaustive fixture- list for starters; the contract payments; and a sundry other things. BCCI doesn’t toe the line if they don’t have to. Now when it suits them, they conveniently keep blocking it in every available forum. In this case, they simply want to let the ICC know who the boss is and that they can’t just shove anything down BCCI’s throats. You see, it’s more of an ego fight.

Mind you, this is the same BCCI which blocked the internationalization of T20 matches without even giving it as much as a try. Not many know that India were a reluctant participant in the inaugural T20 World Cup after the BCCI was out-voted 9-1 in the ICC Executive meeting on whether or not to hold a T20 World Cup. It’s an altogether different story that India went on to win the cup; and spawned off that little monster called the IPL. I’m waiting for the day when it turns Frankenstein and devours its own creator! It’s not as far-fetched as you might think folks.

I digress. MS Dhoni’s criticism that UDRS is not 100% accurate and so shouldn’t be implemented is really a little too na├»ve; and slightly unbecoming of a mature head like him. The system was never designed to be 100% accurate. Hell, cricket wasn’t designed to be accurate all the time. Once you start with that mindset, the next best logical target would be how do you minimize the mistakes. That is where UDRS comes in.

It is acknowledged universally that human eye can give you the right decision approximately 90% of the time in most cases. If with UDRS, you could move the needle from 90 to say, 98 or even 95% wouldn’t that be a whole lot better. Not if you are BCCI apparently. With their all-or-nothing mantra, they just keep increasing the margin of and for error.

For the uninitiated, BCCI pretty much runs the ICC. So if the ICC wants to implement something, it better have BCCI’s blessing. Else the screws will come off the wheels even before the vehicle can get going. And to take the analogy further what makes the BCCI chug along? We the billion-plus cricket crazy fanatics of this country, which the BCCI pretty much got on a platter. They didn't have to build up a fan base, nor even cultivate one; they just inherited us for our love of the sport. They were the custodians of the game and happily (for them), in the right place at the perfect time.

Which brings me back to the question I asked at the beginning? If you still haven’t figured it out + are not asleep + are still curious, the answer is this: it is in their inheritance of seemingly undeserved riches. This is how Wikipedia describes Paris Hilton: “She is an example of the modern phenomenon of the 'celebutante', the celebrity who rises to fame not because of their talent or work but because of their inherited wealth...” Replace Paris with BCCI and wealth with fans/followers/market (what have you), and you get the picture.

So what chances of the UDRS getting implemented in an India series any time soon? Not a jot. What should be a lot easier for the BCCI to do would be to remove the ‘Board’ and definitely the anachronistic ‘Control’ and call themselves CI. The BC at the beginning is no coincidence… move on to AD guys! If, nay when, that happens, this post can proudly say, “C I told you so!”